News  |  November 29, 2017

Featured below is a Q&A with PHNCI's Jessica Solomon, chief innovations officer, on PHNCI's one year anniversary. The original article can be found here.

Public Health National Center for Innovations launched a year ago to spark and align innovations in public health practice. As public health departments adapt to meet the growing and changing needs of their communities, the need for strategic coordination to help incubate and share innovative ideas is greater than ever.

Now on its one-year anniversary, we talked with Jessica Solomon Fisher, chief innovations officer, to learn about the work and where its headed. The center, or PHNCI, was established by the Public Health Accreditation Board, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Q: Your center encourages innovation to advance a culture of health. What does it mean to be “innovative” in public health?

In recent years, conversations at the national level have focused on systems redesign, technology, collaboration with traditional and non-traditional partners, opportunities due to health reform and a focus on population health. Yet there is no roadmap for health departments to understand what is needed to best adapt to a changing landscape.

PHNCI envisions innovation in public health such that governmental public health departments can advance their practice, decrease inequities and improve the health and well-being of the communities they serve. Innovations of the caliber that PHNCI is interested in understanding and fostering are those that move health departments outside of their traditional comfort zones. Collectively these innovations, when clearly understood, will transform public health practice.

Imagine if Henry Ford never installed the moving assembly line for the manufacturing of automobiles. Or consider what the world would be like without smartphones. Smartphone technology is used not just for the convenience of ordering Starbucks through an app and having it ready and paid for when you walk through their door, but also to change education in developing countries and allow families to find one another after disaster strikes. What possibilities exist in public health practice to unearth the next iPhone?

We are embarking on a body of work that will allow the field to get there so that we no longer accept the old adage about doing things the way they’ve always been done, simply because they’ve always been done that way. Just last week, we brought together innovation experts from other sectors, and experts in public health practice, to begin defining innovation for public health. Stay tuned this winter to find out where we landed when we share the definition broadly and lay the future groundwork for health departments to advance innovation!

Q: Additionally, how does PHNCI promote public health innovation?

In addition to the work we are currently supporting in three state public health systems, this winter, PHNCI will begin collecting stories of innovation from health departments across the nation, to share broadly and help diffuse learnings. Looking ahead, we plan to offer grants to foster innovation in health departments and diffuse practices in a manner that allows other agencies to adapt and adopt approaches to inform their own innovation.

At the national level, we continue to engage across sectors to understand how to best support health departments during this time when public health continues to evolve. We will continue also to develop and share resources, like eLearning modules and documents that align national initiatives, to assist agencies in building capacity to best serve their communities.

Q: PHNCI spoke at our Annual Meeting in Denver about your work with three states to transform “how we do” public health. Describe this process and results thus far.

Our session at APHA focused on one of the key components of our first year of work. We highlighted how we are supporting Ohio, Oregon and Washington on their larger efforts to implement the systems transformations required to provide the foundation public health services and ensure that all residents have equitable access to public health. While each state has a different approach and different drivers, their visions for modernizing their public health systems are each focused on understanding what capacities and services need to be available in all health departments, such as foundational public health services; what type of organization and systems structures best support those, such as how they should be provided; and how to achieve their provision equitably.

In Ohio, their focus also includes identifying pathways to Public Health Accreditation Board accreditation and alignment of community health improvement planning efforts between public health and health care. In Oregon, they are strategizing around how to best implement modernization plans for all health departments to achieve the foundational public health services, as defined by their modernization manual. And in Washington, they are using the foundational public health services to determine the best design for the public health system and build a strategy to adequately and sustainably fund it.

These are all yearslong efforts as systems change doesn’t happen overnight. However, each state is moving quickly and making rapid progress toward their goals. To follow their progress, visit and learn more!

Q: APHA members work in diverse fields. How can our 50,000 members get involved with the variety of transformations required to provide foundational public health services and ensure health equity?

Be in touch with PHNCI! We would love to hear from APHA members who are working on the foundational public health services and on public health innovation. It is our aim to not only put out information that the field can use, but to collect information and learn from the field. Only through bi-directional communication can we truly understand, and thus support, the field as it continues to evolve.

Public health may have funding and workforce shortages to contend with but by having conversations about the sometimes changing role of public health and how to use innovation to maintain relevance, increase visibility and serve as a resource to communities, we can do our work better and improve health for all communities.